WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, who barely knew his own father, devoted the full power of the presidential bully pulpit on the eve of Father’s Day weekend to promoting the importance of being a good dad, saying he wants to start a “national conversation” on the subject.
Obama spent Friday afternoon on events related to fatherhood, gathering famous and not-so-famous fathers for a series of service projects around Washington and a White House town hall meeting, then addressing young men on the South Lawn.
He spoke in deeply personal terms of “the hole in a child’s heart” left by an absent father and of the powerful influence his Kenyan father exerted during the only visit the senior Obama made after he and Obama’s mother had divorced. Obama noted that during that visit – when he was just 10 – his father gave him his first basketball and took him to his first jazz concert, stirring lifelong interests.
“Fathers are our first teachers and coaches, they’re our mentors and role models, they set an example of success and push us to succeed,” Obama said at the White House. “When fathers are absent, when they abandon their responsibility to their children, we know the damage that does to our families.”
While presidents typically mark Father’s Day and celebrate the virtues of family, the attention Obama devoted is unusual. He also wrote an article to appear Father’s Day in Parade magazine and plans a Father’s Day interview on CBS’ “Sunday Morning.” The White House event is to be followed by regional meetings on fatherhood.
The importance of fatherhood has been a touchstone for Obama throughout his public life, going back to the memoir he wrote after his election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. The memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” explored the role of his absent father in his search for identity.
As a politician, he has regularly used Father’s Day as an occasion to exhort men, particularly African-Americans, to fully embrace the responsibilities of fatherhood. In 2005, on the first Father’s Day after his election to the U.S. Senate, he went to a black church in Chicago to challenge African-American fathers to act like “full-grown” men and gave similar speeches tied to Father’s Day during both years of his presidential campaign.